It’s almost impossible to look past such a salacious tagline as “It’s not human and it’s got an axe”, therefore, I didn’t. While I was slightly disappointed that it was human, he still carried that axe with enough murderous glee to make up for that shortcoming.
The Prey is an oddity for sure. Approximately half of the film’s running time is filled with nature footage. Pretty great if you’re Mutal of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, but as an edge of your seat slasher, shots of centipedes walking doesn’t always generate the scare factor. Yet, when the viewer gets to the film’s disturbing finale, you’d be hard pressed to say it wasn’t at least jolting.
The story – six young campers hike to a remote part of the wilderness unaware that an angry and charred gypsy (!) is bent on avenging the death of his clan due to a man-made forest fire. He was apparently left scarred… and pretty pissed off. Granted, throwing in a crispy gypsy is certainly inventive, but The Prey is a strictly by the numbers story without much flare given to the characters or their dialogue. In fact, some of the scenes were looped together, as if this were a porn (the filmmaker made adult movies at the time, and it’s rumored that there is an adult version of this somewhere in the ether) but it’s looped together backwards, which means you catch the end of the conversation then it wraps backwards and starts a bit earlier, winds back to the end and then loops towards the beginning again! Whew! There’s art in there somewhere, there just has to be!
What The Prey lacks in story it makes up for with atmosphere. Somehow that extraneous footage of animals frolicking does work in creating a bit of suspense, maybe because it’s just so weird that it constantly pulls the film from a semi-realistic to a still surrealistic slasher. Also, the location is just magnificent. Beautiful and lush greenery fill every frame until the last third when our campers hit a desolate and barren rock. It’s a stark contrast to the beauty and it adds a bit of oomph to the climax.
The actors are pretty game as well. Jackson Bostwick takes the lead as Ranger Mark O’Brien. His wide-mouth-frog story adds a bit of flavor to a flavorless character. I was quite smitten with Bostwick’s portrayal here and thought he’d make an interesting leading man in just about anything. Other familiar faces include an older Jackie Coogan, Carel Struycken, former Playgirl Playmate Steve Bond and the loveable 80s Scream Queen Lori Lethen. So, if I can quote the opening theme song to Facts of Life (yeah, strange segue but there you go), “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have -” If Mrs. Garrett was ever onto something, it’s that lyric. The Prey mixes the good and the bad and then there you have – a pretty damn fine slasher.